Milwaukee at Cleveland State: Thursday, 6 p.m. Central, Time Warner Sports 32:
With a one-point overtime victory over Valparaiso, Green Bay did something that their fans may groan about.
They set up Milwaukee to win the conference championship. Personally, I think the ‘Nix will be okay with it, seeing as they’d rather win than lose. Me? I’m ecstatic.
For the first time in five years, we’re playing for a legitimate conference championship going into the final two games. And for the first time in five years, we control our own destiny. Win out and the conference championship comes to Milwaukee, as does the Horizon League Tournament. Lose either game, and that is kaput, with the road to the NCAA Tournament two games longer.
Needless to say, as huge as the Green Bay game was, as big as the Valparaiso game was, it doesn’t get bigger or better than Milwaukee at Cleveland State, Thursday night at 6 p.m. central.
The Panthers come in battered, with Anthony Hill hobbled and possibly out with an ankle injury, Kaylon Williams battling an injured shoulder, and Ryan Allen recovering from a horrific fall last Wednesday.
But they come in determined. This is a basketball team that has come under fire from all angles. Their fans have been pessimistic and they know it. The former AD tried to pull a power play and get rid of their coach last season. The season began poorly despite high expectations, and they lost double-digit games many times. They have several top players injured.
And it’s for all those reasons that Milwaukee has the edge. Because, like the football team that the majority of their fan base roots for, they’ve stared down adversity and smacked it upside the head.
For all intents and purposes, the Milwaukee Panthers’ NCAA Tournament began on January 23rd in Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Panthers could not and can not afford to lose another game, because in all likelihood, a loss means they’re out of the running for the double-bye that comes with being a #1 and #2 seed.
But you already know that. And so do they. The Panthers have an advantage over Cleveland State because they’ve got more to play for, more riding on Thursday night than CSU can ever imagine. With a loss, CSU still has an outside chance at an at-large bid, and a for-sure bid to the NIT. With a victory, the Vikings have the inside track at a regular season championship, which will give them the easiest road to the NCAA Tournament. They haven’t been there since…2009. Norris Cole, Jeremy Montgomery, Trevon Harmon, and Aaron Pogue have all been to the dance before. Knocked off Wake Forest too.
They’ve had their dance. The hunger is there, but not as it is in Brew City. We’re ravenous.
The title of this post is “Destiny is in our hands.” Think about that for a second. After double-digit losses to Portland, Western Michigan, DePaul, Wright State, Cleveland State, Valparaiso. After being left for dead not three weeks ago. After all the hoping and praying for a home game in the tournament. It’s within our grasp. After such improbability of being down in the conference by two games in the loss column just six days ago, needing a victory over a team that absolutely smothered them right before the streak began, and needing that same team to lose to their archrivals…
Destiny doesn’t do it justice. If this team goes 4-0 and returns to the NCAA Tournament, it will indeed be a miracle.
It all comes down to Thursday.